Owen Farrell insists England enter the World Cup battle hardened by a strenuous series of warm-up Tests as he declares the best is yet to come.
Italy were thumped 37-0 in Newcastle on Friday to complete a successful summer of preparations which peaked with a record victory over Ireland at Twickenham. A narrow defeat to Wales in Cardiff was their only blemish.
They will touch down in Tokyo on Monday morning as second favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy behind New Zealand and Farrell, the team’s captain, insists they must be ready for anything in the weeks ahead.
“These matches have been good for us. The Tests have been different, all of them,” Farrell said.
“Every single game has thrown different things at us and we’ve managed to deal with it and put in decent performances.
“There’s still a lot left in us and that’s a good place to be in. We’ll make sure we keep working on it.
“What has pleased me most about the four games is our ability to stick in the fight in different situations.
“That Wales game away was a tough game. We went behind but we stuck in it and we gave ourselves an opportunity at the end.
“There’s a plan in place to get us as ready as we possibly can be for this World Cup and it feels like we are in a good place. But you never know what could happen.
“You have got to be as prepared as you can for what’s in front of you, but at the same time you have got to be ready to deal with anything. We will make sure we’re calm enough to do that.”
Tokyo has been braced for the arrival of Typhoon Faxai, which has the potential to delay England’s arrival into the Japanese capital.
Australia, possible quarter-final opponents who are due to land the same day, have changed to a later departure in an attempt to avoid winds that could reach up to 180 kilometres per hour and that have forced the cancellation of dozens of flights in the region.
England’s plan is to spend a night in Tokyo before heading to the south western island of Kyushu, where they will complete a week-long pre-tournament training camp ahead of their opening match against Tonga on September 22.
Lock Joe Launchbury (back) and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie (knee) have been added to their lengthy list of wounded after sustaining knocks at St James’ Park.
Centre Henry Slade and wing Jack Nowell will arrive in Japan without playing a single minute of the four warm-up Tests due to respective knee and ankle issues.
Jonathan Joseph, also a centre, is nursing a ‘leg muscle’ injury while Mako Vunipola is unlikely to be ready until the latter stages of the group phase when the pivotal games against Argentina and France are played.
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Ireland gave head coach Joe Schmidt and captain Rory Best the perfect farewell at the Aviva Stadium with a confidence-boosting 19-10 win over Wales on Saturday.
Both men will relinquish their respective roles after the Rugby World Cup and they toasted their final match in Dublin by steering Ireland to the top of World Rugby’s rankings for the first time.
The home side though were left to sweat a possible knee injury for wing Keith Earls, amid a solid victory where Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan all bagged tries.
Rhys Patchell’s third concussion in a year, meanwhile, handed Wales a big World Cup injury scare.
Here’s the key talking points from Dublin:
Another improved display for the Men in Green.
They showed lots of energy and intricacy around the ball carrier, and stepped up their performance levels again after last week’s 22-17 win over the same opposition.
Schmidt’s side demonstrated some positive and fast back line play, slick passing, strong defence (they missed only eight of their 115 tackles), good kicking variety and ran good angles to make it difficult for Wales to stop them getting over the gain line.
They built phases, produced some strong carries from CJ Stander, Robbie Henshaw and Ryan, and looked back to their fluid best in attack.
There were doubts creeping into this team about their form in recent weeks, but they look to have timed it right. It wasn’t a perfect display by any means – with the lineout still creaking – but certainly a lot better than previous weeks.
It was controlled and clinical, and one that sets them up nicely ahead of their World Cup opener against Scotland on September 22.
WALES TIRE OUT
While simple rugby worked well for Ireland, Wales – after a promising start – were unable to gain a foothold for large parts of the contest.
Despite producing some productive moments in attack and defence in the first half, Wales couldn’t convert their possession and territory into points.
Hadleigh Parkes steamed through for their only try of the game on 31 minutes and at that point the visitors looked full of confidence.
But some uncharacteristic weak defending and poor decision making in attack saw Wales struggle.
Ireland were methodical and picked the right options, starved Wales of possession and that is psychologically very tiring for any defence, especially for one that is generally flawless over the ball.
One of the positives for Warren Gatland when he dissects the video over the coming days was the accuracy of the set-piece. From the lineout, Wales won all eight of their throws, and from the scrum they won all three.
Wales looked fatigued as the game wore on and, coupled with a number of poor refereeing decisions, lacked that cutting edge that saw them soar to Six Nations success earlier this year.
For Gatland, it’s all about the performance of their four warm-up matches over the results and he will study the games endlessly to have his team primed and firing for Georgia in 16 days time. In a World Cup year, the only thing that matters is the World Cup itself.
Ryan may only be in his third year in professional rugby but Ireland play so much better when the 23-year-old is on the field.
Kearney produced a majestic display and would have been the name pursed on most people’s lips for man-of-the-match, but Ryan shone brightest at the Aviva Stadium, setting the tone for his team in defence and at the breakdown.
The Leinster man scored a try, made 10 carries and 10 tackles and was always looking to get involved at any opportunity.
He continuously purrs with confidence and is a future Ireland captain in the making.
The argument can be made that he is potentially Ireland’s most important player already.
England coach Eddie Jones has revealed that he will be without both Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell for at least the first two games of the Rugby World Cup.
Speaking after his side completed preparations with a 37-0 win over Italy at St James’s Park, Jones confirmed the extent of injuries which will continue to sideline the pair.
Vunipola aggravated a hamstring injury when he made a brief return against Ireland late last month, while Nowell has been making good progress from a serious ankle injury.
Jones said: “We feel that he (Vunipola) will be right possibly for game three or four.
“Jack in the last couple of days has taken off and we’ve had to hold him back, but he should be right again around the same time as Mako.
“He (Vunipola) is a very important player and we are very confident that he will make a very important contribution for us.”
Jones hailed England’s hunger for success after they turned a nine-point half-time lead into an emphatic victory over the Italians.
Despite surrendering possession in a sluggish opening spell, Jones made a series of replacements and saw his side belatedly flourish.
Referring to last week’s Italian training camp, Jones said: “We looked like we were still eating pasta and pizza in Treviso in the first half, but we got that out of our system.
“I thought in the second half we were a lot more purposeful. We made a number of changes that we planned to, we tried a few different combinations and we were very pleased with that.”
Of more relief to Jones will have been a relatively clean bill of health, with only Joe Launchbury causing a degree of concern with a back injury which Jones described as “not too serious”.
Jones singled out Ben Youngs for a man-of-the-match display, adding: “Ben has had a really good training week – it’s been the best that I’ve seen him train.
“His speed with the ball, his passing and his accuracy were good, so he is really coming into good form in time for the World Cup.”
Italy coach Conor O’Shea said he was baffled by the size of England’s victory after watching his side dominate possession for much of the first half.
O’Shea said: “It is difficult for the boys to take. We had execution issues in terms of not getting the scores, but there were so many good things out there.
“Sometimes in life you get strange results and that’s what I feel at the moment. There’s a lot of good stuff that we can carry forward, but I think any team that beats England are going to win the World Cup.”
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